Volunteers travel to build for Habitat for Humanity

April 25, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

HAGERSTOWN - There was a cacophony at the corner of Vickie Drive and Main Avenue Saturday afternoon. Nearly a nonosecond passed without the sound of a hammer hitting a nail.

Volunteers with Habitat for Humanity of Washington County, along with nearly 70 volunteers of a "road-tripping" group headed by Tom Gerdy of Lynchburg, Va., arrived at the corner early Saturday to build two houses in three days at 246 and 248 Vickie Drive.

Called a "blitz build," a first for Washington County, Habitat volunteer road trippers from around the country come together at building sites to put up one or more houses in a day or two. They pay their own travel and lodging expenses and often give up vacation time.


Many of Saturday's blitz builders came from the Lynchburg area. Some came from as far away as Los Angeles, Minnesota, Georgia, and North and South Carolina, Gerdy said.

Many of Saturday's volunteers wore orange T-shirts emblazoned with the boastful phrase, "We came We Saw and Blitzed!"

Washington County volunteers have built 20 homes over the years, said Sherry Brown Cooper, executive director of the Washington County Habitat chapter.

On Saturday morning, concrete foundations were the only hint that two homes were going to be built on the lots. By mid-afternoon, with hundreds of people scrambling over them like ants on a hill, they began to take shape.

The one at 248 Vickie Drive had most of its vinyl siding installed and all of its roof rafters by mid-afternoon. Construction was about 20 percent further along than its neighbor at 246 Vickie Drive, said David Day of Moyek, N.C., a siding and gutter contractor back home.

While both houses will be under roof, covered with vinyl siding, have their windows and doors installed and perhaps some drywall up by the time the volunteers leave for home Monday night, they won't be ready to move into for months, Brown Cooper said.

Still needed will be flooring, carpeting, lighting, kitchen and bath cabinets and fixtures, and painting, she said. That will be done by local Habitat volunteers, she said.

The house at 246 Vickie Drive is known as "the girls' house" this weekend because it is being built by women.

The house was being built by women of all descriptions and ages, all walks and all occupations. They wore nail aprons instead of kitchen aprons. They hammered away - left-handed, right-handed, two-handed, whatever seemed to work. They hauled lumber and materials. At one point, six women grabbed a section of a large front door assembly out of a supply trailer and carried it to the house to be installed.

A sign in front of the house read, "This house is a women's build project."

Noreen Turyn, a television news anchorwoman at an ABC affiliate in Lynchburg, was nailing an electrical box to a stud. She has worked on Habitat houses at home, but this is her first road trip, she said.

"Tom Gerdy recruits people from all over for the once-a-year road trip," Turyn said.

Norma Pletke, 76, of Lynchburg, was carrying bottles of water to her colleagues in the girls' house.

"I hammer nails, bring water, see that everybody's happy and do what I'm told to do," she said.

Danielle Oed, 29, a professional house painter from Towson, Md., was working on the outer walls, roof and gables Saturday.

"This is my first time at Habitat," she said. "It's about giving and receiving. If you don't put it out there, you won't get it back."

Adrianne Ferree's T-shirt bore the message, "Well-behaved women rarely make history."

Ferree, 47, of Los Angeles, met Gerdy at a Habitat project in Long Beach, Calif.

"I was working on a (Habitat) house next to one he and a travel crew were building," she said. Gerdy didn't know how to install the seismic ties required on buildings in earthquake-prone California. "I had to show him how. I'm an architect."

She said that was her first Habitat experience. "Seeing all those people working together, the camaraderie. Everybody helping, no one pointing fingers. It's all about getting it done. It was so emotional. I was crying."

"It's about teaching others how to do it," said Courtney Allen, 20, a sophomore at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., who was standing next to Ferree.

Their attention was riveted on the house next door, where workers were installing roof rafters.

Among the volunteers was the object of their attention. Up there was "the hot guy," Allen said.

Known to Allen and Ferree as "Minnesota Wayne," his shirtless, tanned, six-pack-abbed, muscular upper body stood out among the more average, covered builds of his co-workers.

"He's 38," Ferree said.

Volunteer EMTs Melvin Smith and Steve Pryor from Community Rescue Service stood by in case of emergency. By mid-afternoon, they had treated several cuts, abrasions and bruises, plus one case each of high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

Smith was bandaging the right forefinger of Bob Birch, 62, of Lynchburg, the victim of a misplaced hammer blow.

Since 1988, he figures he has worked on at least 150 Habitat homes.

Christine Wolfe, 26, of Hagerstown, walked by and held up her bandaged left hand. "It's OK," she said.

Earlier in the day, she drove a nail through it that was sticking out of a wall section she was trying to lift, she said.

The houses are being built for two single mothers, Brown Cooper said.

Michele Johnson, 29, has a daughter, 9, and a son, 8. She works for First Data in Hagerstown.

Sharon Blair works at Williamsport Retirement Village. Her children, 15 and 16, will live with her in the house.

Neither woman has owned a home before. Both seemed to be ecstatic at the prospect as they pitched in alongside the volunteers.

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